It’s Under The Stars, babe. A quasi-weekly column that presents new music releases, upcoming shows, opinions, and other adjacent items. We keep moving with the changes and thinking outside the margins.
SUN RA ARKESTRA AT GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC HALL, FEB. 6-8
There is no precursor to Herman Poole Blount aka Sun Ra. Just before and after.
His sound, innovation, and logic around creating music for the 21st century via the narrative of aliens documenting the struggle to exist on planet Earth left an ever-flowing geyser of artistic creativity to draw from.
And so they did: Daft-Punk, Parliament Funkadelic, Lady Gaga in the line “Rocket Number Nine Take off for the Planet Venus” from her song “Venus.”
David Bowie during his Ziggy Stardust phase, Earth Wind and Fire, Deltron 3030, OutKast, and Janelle Monae just to name the heavyweights who stole, got inspired, and tipsy on that bubbly. And then proceeded to reap financial and critical success. Much, no. Far more than the actual creator enjoyed during his lifetime.
Hello techno producers, especially from Detroit, who referenced Sun Ra as an inspirational creative mentor. Who saw themselves as outsiders, as Sun Ra himself did, but also embraced that freedom of not being considered within a general populace. I’ll let Sun-Ra explain:
“We started [wearing space costumes] back in Chicago,” Sun Ra is quoted in the liner notes for In The Orbit of Ra from 2014. “In those days I tried to make the black people, the so-called negroes, conscious of the fact that they live in a changing world. And because I thought that they were left out of everything culturally, that nobody had thought about bringing them in contact with the culture, none of the black leaders did that…. that’s why I thought I could make it clear to them that there are other things outside their closed environment. That’s what I tried with those clothes. I designed some of them myself. I did it because just by seeing those clothes the people could get an idea of what I meant.”
The master composer, arranger, architect, and philosopher would have turned 110 on May 22 of this year. Marshall Allen, the current band leader and longest-living member of his Arkestra, who doesn’t travel with the band as much, is 99 and is credited with keeping this sweeping music not just alive, but also being toured. From stride piano arrangements from the ’50s to otherworldly electronic 20-minute pieces created right around 1978.
Sun Ra Arkestra, performing at the Great American Music Hall, February 6-8, will cover this vast catalog that stretches from big band composer, interstellar traveler, and stride piano-playing bluesman.
These are the portals that give a distinct voice to so many sonic palettes within Sun-Ra’s arrangements.
One moment he’s dealing out large scale jazz compositions that no doubt rival contemporaries such as Duke Ellington and Mingus Big Band. Then, the use of the intergalactic organ, mellophone, gong, space bird sounds, and reverb communicates a much more introspective arrangement.
As Sun-Ra would say, the music is here. Are the ears ready for it?
The fact that this big band has soldiered on since Poole’s transitioning in 1993 indicates more are listening now than ever. Purchase tickets here.
FEELING FEBRUARY WITH DRY CLEANING AND KHRUANGBIN
So here we are, people. The first week in February, and the music industry is acting swoll.
As if it’s still drunk, having been overserved at the after-hours. Boldly walking down Sixth Street round 5am without a care in the world, hopped up on liquid courage, strutting alongside the best of ’em. Talking that talk.
Listen, we write this column a couple of weeks in advance if you still need to catch on to that. So, in mid-January, the music gods, or pesky publicists (your mileage may vary), decided to announce projects from two captivating bands on the same day, who have rewritten the post-rock narrative (in my humble opinion) on a larger scale over the past five years or so.
I’m talking about the “musical polymaths” Khruangbin, the power trio out of Houston, TX, whose head-nod combination of surf music, psychedelia, Thai funk, Middle Eastern vamp, disco-to-go strut, and kraut-rock shenanigans lands their sound between ESG on shrooms and the 1970s version of ZZ Top sippin’ lean.
And the UK-based outfit Dry Cleaning, which combines rattling and buzzing nervy, edgy rhythmic-assault with a frigid-cold-narrator, an introvert, who blurt out observations and other forms of inner turmoil over turgid grooves.
Let’s just get this out of the way first: I love them both.
In a musical populace dominated by hip-hop, electronic music, club music, and just strange bedroom-made computer shit, these two bands have simultaneously created large fan bases and repelled other factions of the music streaming public all at once.
Khruangbin is known for live performances: They do this Hip-Hop 101 schtick where they run through all the classic golden era beats and breaks. (Didn’t The Roots do that shit first?)
Which always seems to entertain (folkes who don’t know that The Roots did that shit first).
If you go deep into a Dry Cleaning YouTube k-hole, you’ll find that this is a nasty post-punk band who come prepared to rip your face off with every performance. However, lead speaker Florence Shaw, the band’s verbalizing Sofia Coppola, adds so many twists and poker-faced wit to those workouts that the intensity sometimes gets overlooked.
And yes, the new Dry Cleaning material is not new. They are reissuing their first two EPs, Boundary Road Snacks and Drinks and Sweet Princess on March 8th so that they can embark on a tour that includes SXSW business and performances at The Independent here on March 21 and March 22nd, among other worldwide dates.
Khruangbin, who are releasing A LA SALA their first studio album in four years, has not yet posted any touring dates. However, you can bet that they will hit the road too, bringing their favorite Wu-Tang beat with them.
The result is that we, the audience, live music geeks, win. These bands somehow satisfy the mainstream rock appetite without shoveling Shinola to the masses, while providing new twists on previous ideas.
Fuggit. I’m pretty stoked. Anyone who loves live music made with real instruments should be too.
JAYDA G, “BLUE CARBON“
Following up on a breaking story we reported three, no, four years ago: Jayda Guy is smart. Like nerdy, goofy, love the environment, NASA scientist-type intelligence. No joke. She’s got the marine biologist paperwork to prove it. Born and raised in the small town of Grand Forks, British Columbia—a half-day ride outside Vancouver—Jayda G, the moniker she produces and DJs under, grew up surrounded by nature. We’re talking mountains, forests, rivers, and lakes. That fresh air and water, seeing and smelling natural greens and blues, one can assume it serves the personality a certain grounding.
Respect. Empathy for living, breathing creatures…. a sensibility to care outside oneself. Like one of those BBC shows where the veterinarian goes farm to farm, birthing baby cows or solving intestinal gas problems for animals who can’t articulate the problem, but damn well communicate it one way or another.
As reported by Resident Advisor in January, Jayda G will be featured in the documentary Blue Carbon on CNN later this year. Named after the climate mitigation tactic it will focus on how ocean and coastal ecosystems capture carbon. A Grammy-nominated scientist with a master’s degree in environmental toxicology, yep, Jayda G was tapped for the project and has been working on it since 2022. A broadcast date is still TBA.
The documentary’s soundtrack features a new single by the DJ and producer called “Still Be With You.” She hopes to launch a donation agreement between herself and promoters to support blue carbon conservation.
Blue Carbon was funded by CNN Films, NDR, and Canal Plus.
Stay in the loop for the documentary ongoing here.
MUSIC BOOK CLUB
DJ, author, and Bay Area super homie to the Arts at Large, Tamara Palmer, has launched Music Book Club, a new series of tête-à-tête discussions for public consumption with music writers and authors. It will also serve as a future publishing house for Palmer’s music books and zines, starting with a personal history of Bay Area hip-hop. The series is being presented in partnership with 48hills, and next Wednesday (Feb. 7) it will resume featuring a chat with Danyel Smith, former and first African-American editor of Billboard and Vibe magazines, respectively. Check the full schedule of events here.
FLY ANAKIN AT THE CHAPEL, FEBRUARY 20
One of the cultural signifiers still happening in hip-hop in 2024 is when you get to bless a Madlib beat.
That means you’ve ascended over many, and the Master thinks you are worthy.
Secondly, if you can add something, see, that’s the trick right there, to the audacious complexity that Madlib brings to his productions, then you got that weight.
Fly Anakin, from Richmond, Virginia, is one of the few new-breed emcees who have those internal rhyme scheme linguistics that transmit the heavier, darker aspects of golden era ’90s boom-bap to contemporary methodology.
I know he’s on the opening card of this bill, but you need to be at The Chapel when the doors open so you are properly on time for getting your doors and ears blown off.
Dude, is the truth, and The Bay is lucky to get a rare sighting.
The door opens at 7pm, show starts at 8pm. Grab tix here.
THE NARCOTIX, “THE LAMB”
When you come across something that sounds so stretching, basically a new approach to melding folk, psych-rock, and soul? You cannot unhear it. The toothpaste has been released and is now out into the world.
Composers and multi-instrumentalists Esther Quansah and Becky Foinchas have sculpted their debut album Dying referred to as “an excavation of the ego” in 12/8 time. The lead single “The Lamb” wastes no time alerting all listeners this project shall be a pastiche of sounds, feels, and musical ideas, bucking up against banality.
Quansah and Foinchas, daughters of African immigrants, met in the elementary school chorus and have since kept their ears and minds quite wide. Math rock, soukous, and highlife filtered through a collective lens have given wings to The Narcotix. Working closely with producer-engineer Colin Monachs at GB’s Juke Joint in Long Island City, the pair’s West African-inspired psych-folk challenges conventions and champions marginalized communities.
Pre-order Dying here.